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Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story by Ari Folman and David Polonsky

Waltz with BashirNo, I have not seen the film version of this title. The book is brutal enough on flat pages. I think moving pictures just might send me over the edge. That said, this riveting, nightmarish title should be required reading for anyone contemplating going to war, planning war, starting a war, or even just thinking about war … as important as patriotism and serving one’s country is, war should never be an option. While the subtitle makes this book 1982 Lebanon War-specific, the clear, screaming message from its pages is that this could be any war story, and the results would be equally futile and devastating.

Author Ari Folman meets an old friend Boaz for drinks in 2006; Boaz tells Folman about his recurring violent dream that has its origins in the 1982 Lebanon War. Boaz questions Folman about Folman’s own memories of that terrible time, but Folman can remember nothing: “It’s not in my system. No, there’s nothing,” he says. Leaving his friend, Folman has a flashback for the first time in 20 years “from the night of the massacre … in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.”

Piece by piece, memory by memory, Folman questions friends, colleagues, and experts to painfully and exhaustively help him remember his part in the events of the Lebanon War and ultimately arrives at the massacre at two Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Sabra and Shatila. “Against your will, you were cast in the role of Nazi,” Folman’s best friend Ori tells him. “It’s not that you weren’t there, you were. … But you didn’t carry out the massacre.” Still, Folman’s feelings of guilt-by-association blocked his memories for two long decades.

Folman, together with the film’s art director/chief illustrator David Polonsky, recreates the senselessness of war, regardless of whose ‘side’ you are on. “I don’t know who we’re shooting at. We’re just firing like madmen till nightfall,” Folman recalls of a violent encounter. “We were kind of unaware of a lot that was going on,” he comments about another experience. He’s shocked when a pant-less officer, distractedly watching pornography in an opulent villa taken over by Folman’s Israeli unit, orders Folman to blow up every red Mercedes because of a “hot tip” that a red Mercedes was going to explode on Folman’s men.

With a sense of distanced shock, Folman and Polonsky capture the utter wasted inhumanity of war, ending the book’s final pages with sheer carnage. The illustrated images of Folman’s memories literally become the actual photographs of bloody, twisted, mangled corpses … with the very last image of an old woman, holding her face, her eyes tightly shut in a silent scream of complete devastation. How much clearer can the message be? … War is never, ever the answer.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2009

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